Re: Cohousing in Land Use Code
From: R Philip Dowds (
Date: Mon, 31 Oct 2011 11:26:10 -0700 (PDT)
Zoning ordinances and bylaws tend to be local, hand-crafted, and idiosyncratic. 
 The one use, occupancy and construction type likely to be allowed almost 
everywhere is the free-standing, single-family home on the one acre lot.  Row 
houses are popular variant, but they are just single family homes standing 
shoulder to shoulder.  After that, many or most communities are deeply wary of 
alternative housing forms like ...

"MULTI-FAMILY", which historically has meant "apartments", which in turn means 
tenants, not owners.  Condominium forms of ownership, of course, have greatly 
changed the multi-family picture — except that zoning controls construction, 
not ownership models.  So if it walks and quacks like an apartment building, 
then maybe it IS an apartment building.
     With some difficulty over the last decade or so, a new residential type 
has squeezed into local zoning, namely, "assisted living", or small apartments 
with services for the elderly.  Communities that fear apartments can be 
nonetheless convinced to allow a multi-family project that will not add cars to 
the streets or kids to the schools.  Assisted living fits the bill.
     For the time being, zoning knows from nothing about cohousing.  Near as 
most folks can tell, it's just one more apartment building ... unless it is 
perhaps in the form of ...

"PLANNED UNIT" OR "CLUSTER" DEVELOPMENT.  This is where a bunch of single 
family homes clump together — maybe even as row houses or duplexes — in a small 
portion of a large parcel, leaving the rest for agriculture, recreation, 
habitat, whatever.  The ownership model is that of a long-term lease on 
commonly owned land.  For some Americans, this pattern is a little too Euro, 
but cluster development has its advocates and practitioners around the country 
anyway.  Obviously, a cluster development might, or might not, have some or all 
of the features of cohousing.  Again, zoning is ignorant of this.

So, if you're looking for a socio-architectonic model other than the single 
family home, you may have to take on the local multi-family battle.  There is 
no evidence that zoning will change anytime soon to grant formal recognition 
of, or support for, cohousing per se.

R Philip Dowds AIA
Cornerstone Cohousing
Cambridge, MA

On Oct 31, 2011, at 1:21 PM, luk jonckheere wrote:

> Hello,
> Cottage Housing and Cohousing have things in common,
> check :
> one page about 'cottage housing' building codes,
> from a very interesting and well illustrated website by Ross Chapin about 
> livable neighborhoods.
> kind regards,
> Luk Jonckheere
> 'Cohousing La Grande Cense'
> Clabecq (Belgium)
> L.Jonckheere [at]
> ----- Original Message ----- 
>> From: Melanie Mindlin <sassetta [at]>
>> Subject: [C-L]_ Cohousing in Land Use Code
>> To: cohousing-l [at]
>> I wonder if any of you know about local land-use code that addresses
>> pedestrian-accessed housing?
>> Thanks,
>> Melanie Mindlin
>> ------------------------------
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